Revisiting: Thoughts on Spiritual Flexibility

Back in July of 2016, I wrote a post titled “Thoughts on Spiritual Flexibility“. I thought it might be a great time to revisit some of the points in this post. I found it interesting that a July post in a Presidential election year would be facetiously noting things such as what Donald Trump may say to make headlines, since that became a fairly commonplace thing in the four years following. However, I brought the post back to the arena I wanted to set things in:  devotional practice.

My devotional practice has changed a lot in the following years since this post. At that time, Crow was my primary devotional. Even though Coyote was already a part of my Spiritual Path, our contact was sporadic at best, as it has become lately. Abnoba had not even entered into the picture at this time. So much of what I wrote was geared towards daily devotionals to a single God that I was working with. Now, with three, daily devotionals  can take a different tack in the wind. But I’ll serve that up a little later.

One thing that has not changed about daily devotionals is my perspective that it just is not work. And if it resembled work, I would have problems seeing it as part of my devotionals to two Trickster Gods and a Forest Goddess. perhaps, it might be best to set down a foundation as to what I consider to be devotional aspects of my Spirituality. Merriam Webster describes devotional as:

1a: religious fervor PIETY
b: an act of prayer or private worship
c: a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate worship of a congregation
2a: the act of dedicating something to a cause, enterprise, or activity the act of devoting
b: the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal
3 obsolete the object of one’s devotion

Merriam Webster  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/devotion

So, the two I will focus on are 1(b) and to some extent 2(b). For my, my daily devotionals are something akin to prayers. Not quite the same thing, but that’s about the best that I can put into a descriptive thought. For instance, every time I drive down to Houston from Hillsboro, a trek of a little more than two-hundred miles, I always ask for the protection of my little triad of Gods. In a strict sense, this can be considered a type of devotional to all three of Them. Most mornings that I wake up, I stop for a moment and thank Crow for waking me. I don’t always do that, but am usually on point with it. But these little statements, these little moments….I don’t have to think about them, I just do them. Its a part of me. Its about respecting and recognizing the two Gods and the Goddess that are such a focal part of my Spirituality.

Now, granted, everyday life can and does get in the way of this. When I miss a day or five, I don’t kick myself for forgetting. I don’t apologize for forgetting. I get back into the cycle of showing my respect and recognition. Trust me, the Gods are not going to absolutely freak if you miss a daily devotional – unless They are requiring it of you, but that’s a different story.

I am going to quote an entire paragraph from that July 2016 post, because I just don’t know how to write this any better than it already is.

One’s Spiritual beliefs are what they are. What you believe is what you believe. I happen to believe in the Gods and Goddesses. You – whoever might be reading this – may have a belief in something different, or even nothing at all. But whatever the case may be, it shouldn’t be “work” – at least in my opinion. Being in your element Spiritually is something that should feel natural, and welcoming to you. Don’t mistake what I am saying though. Growing in your Spirituality is, and should be, work to one degree or another. That’s actually important. Growing is about stretching your Spiritual muscles, and much like physical muscles, there’s work to be done for that to happen. But just being who you are Spiritually? That should be as natural and comfortable as your skin.

Thoughts on Spiritual Flexibility, TommyElf
Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

I’m quite comfortable with who and what I am. I don’t need the wider Pagan community to acknowledge or tell me if I am a Pagan, a Druid or a Polytheist. I know I am those. I’m comfortable with being those. I continue to grow in my knowledge and understanding of all of those. I don’t need society to accept the fact that I am Polyamorous.  I am. Our modern Christian society tells me that I am going to Hell for beliefs such as that. My only response is “you first.” I’m not judging people’s lifestyles nor am I saying that mine is better than theirs. Except that is better than theirs – for me. Don’t be on the fence about who and what you are. Figure it out and accept that for yourself. What others toss out there only matters if you let it.

Why do I bring this up? Because being who you are is important. Knowing who you are is a constant search. Understanding who you are is key to being comfortable with yourself. If devotionals aren’t your thing, don’t do them. But don’t piss all over someone else’s belief in devotionals. Respect it for what it is – a part of who they are, a part of their beliefs. I don’t particularly believe in the Holy Trinity, but I am not about to piss all over the concept. But if you are into devotionals and its your thing – don’t kick yourself in the ass when you miss one or five in a row. Just get back on the devotional cycle that you’ve set for yourself.

–T /|\

Each Path for That Individual at That Time

Q:  How does one become a Pagan??

A:  Well, in my experience, as well as what I have managed to glean from others, it’s not so much “becoming” a Pagan, as much as it is finding that this wide myriad of Paths holds one that simply just “clicks” with you.

9112248859_703762b7e2_k…another of those questions that I get a lot from non-Pagans. Perhaps, I am a little different in my own personal theory on this, but I do not believe that people become Pagans, so much as they find one of the many Pagan paths that are out there that align better with what they believe within themselves. Not everyone is going to be a hard polytheist. Not everyone is going to find what they need within Wicca (I didn’t). But there is nothing wrong with either of those or with any other approach for that matter. Yes, I will even defend those that decide to place a pinch of racism into their own beliefs. So long as you are not harming anyone else because they do not follow your beliefs…or trying to push them off a Path that is similar to your own, simply because they will not align exactly with your own or (Gods forbid) using your beliefs or your position within those beliefs to harm another…I have zero issues with someone exploring their own idea of what the “divine” is.

For me, people eventually come to their own beliefs through their own experiences. For me, I always felt that the Gods and Goddesses were alive and individual beings when I was a young lad, hunting through encyclopedias in the Base Library. I could feel Their presence in the woods throughout Germany when I went walking with my parents (and several hundred other folks) during volksmarches. For others on their own spiritual paths (even on a path of Druidry very similar to my own), they may hold that there are an archetypal God and Goddess, or a universal Spiritual Divine, or even the Christian Trinity. It is not how I connect to the world around me, but I am not willing to push them off their Paths simply because the manner in which they experience their connectedness is different from my own.

We are nearing the beginning of Spring here in North Texas. Every day that I drive the eleven miles to and from work, I see the new-born calves in the pastures, sometimes huddled close to their mother cows, and other times running with my truck as I drive past them. Even despite the last pushes at a bitter cold have come down from the northern tier of the United States, these newborns are a reminder that Spring is on its way – as promised every year in the turning cycle. Through those moments, I see the hands of the Gods and Goddesses everywhere. Just as I am sure that a soft polytheist sees the nurturing aspects of the archetype Mother, and the Christian sees the nurturing hand of God.

Though it sounds like I am making a hard comparative point, I am actually not. Each of these is a manner in which some of my friends see the world around them, and find their own connections. Each sounds similar, but the reality is that they are not. Every individual finds their own unique connection to their environment utilizing the framework that works best for them. Other folks, do not even attempt to seek that connected strand out in their lives, while some will find the strand regardless, with no spiritual pull to it all.  And the hard reality is that each approach is correct – for the individual that utilizes it. And if it is not, that individual will seek a new connected experience, in their own time, at their own pace.

I know how I feel the connection to the Gods and Goddesses – to the Ancestors – to the Spirits of Place. That approach works for me. It is definitely not for me to tell a single person that their approach is wrong or incorrect. When someone comes to seek my advice (and admittedly, it is not often), I try my best to describe my approach and point out that it is my own. They might be able to glean something that works for them or perhaps, just hearing about my approach might spark an idea in a completely different direction for them. And that is really all I can do. Try to show other avenues that might be available and useful for them. It is why I write this blog. It is why I am going to continue the podcast. So that other folks can see that not every avenue is appropriate, but that searching out for different approaches might be enough to open the door.

This morning, I was watching the movie “Troy”. This is a guilty pleasure of mine. I love the dynamic between Achilles and the Priestess Briseis. There is a moment, which disagrees with how I perceive the Gods that takes place between these two characters:

Achilles: I’ll tell you a secret. Something they don’t teach you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.

While I agree with the sentiment of the beauty and fleeting treasure that a mortal life is, as Achilles describes it – I disagree that the Gods envy us. I believe, like us, the Gods have their own aspects of connectivity. Certainly, there is something to be said about how much richer the beauty of a fleeting moment may have. It certainly is a reminder of what we are as mortal beings. To find beauty, we only need to be silent in a forest at morning. Or in a field. Or even just outside of our front or back doors to our homes. To hear the wind whisper through the branches of the trees, through the tall grasses of the farmer’s field or through the leaves of the bushes near our homes. The warmth of the sun on our faces, or the cooled drops of rain. The feel of the dirt in our hands as we plant our crops or weed our flower beds. And those moments, those fleeting moments that will not be the same – even if we come back in an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year or ever…those are the moments that live in our memories. Moments we will never experience exactly the same, again.

How we connect to everything around us, everyone around us, the Gods and Goddesses, our Ancestors, and the Spirits of Place – how we celebrate those moments in our own memories is what is important. Which Gods and Goddesses we seek the Divine in our lives is important – to each of us individually. When we gather together at certain points in the Wheel of the Year, we honor all the Gods and Goddesses collectively – aloud or silently. We also honor ourselves and each other. For we are unique individuals, and we will not be the same ever again then at that moment. For like our environment, just like the Gods and Goddesses, we are changing. Some changes are small, others (such as death) are massively consequential, for us, and others.

This all might seem a bit “rambly” (the spell-checking dictionary claims it to be a word) in nature, but I assure this is not. For me, it is quite a cohesive thought. I never “became” a Pagan. I never “became” a polytheist. I am both. I have always been both – even when I had no words or concepts to express it as such. I firmly believe that we do not “become” what we are. We grow into it. From whatever faith. From whatever perspective. Some get to that point of understanding faster than others. There is no judgment in that whatsoever. Some people walk a darkened forest path very quickly, instinctively knowing that illumination in some form will happen eventually. Others move along it slowly, careful not to trip over a hidden rock in the path, and listen carefully to the still air. The correctness of either of those choices or some other option is clearly up to the individual. It took me a while to find my Path, and to be at this point of it. There is a lot more for me to walk, experience and learn from. And even when I reach that destination tht I am seeking; there will be more Path to explore beyond that.

Looking Forward on My Journey – Part 3

So, I enter into the third and final part of looking at my Spiritual journey…a look at today and the unknown reaches of tomorrow. I have discussed the aspects of why Druidry is the framework I choose to work with. My current daily work leans more towards impromptu ritual, finding the spiritual in the everyday mundane, and trying to find new connections with the Gods, the Spirits of Place and Ancestor. This includes a deeper look into my own DNA and Ancestry that started last year during a visit to “The Celts” exhibit in London during my UK trip at the New Year.

DNA-related family has never been a strong point of mine. I have never felt like I was part of my relations, as my Path in life is vastly different than any of theirs. But during my trip through the Celts exhibit, there was a lot of information relating to the DNA side of things. That started me to wonder why I am drawn so heavily to a Celtic framework, particularly over these last few years. The more I dig into my ancestral roots, the more it makes sense. The more it makes sense, the more I relate to aspects of Celtic mythology that I never paid much attention to previously. I honestly do not see some of the connections, but am starting to see small aspects of it in the way I relate to the environment around me. The result of look at my Ancestry has me finding out where my family comes from, how they might  have believed, and how they may have related to their native land.

There’s Fliodhas. An Irish Goddess of the Forest, that has found Her way into my everyday Life. I do not readily understand the connection, but She takes a prominent role in my daily Life. She is in every moment that I am outdoors, whispering in my ear about the beauty of Life and the connections associated with that – both readily known, and those that are far more subtle. Where that Path is drawing me towards, I have no idea. But I readily walk it, staff in hand.

And finally there’s Druidry. I started my Bardic Grade a few years back. And honestly, I started out on-fire. Just ready to get things done. And then Life happened. Job changes. The amount of money that was available at any given time. Many other personal issues. I faltered. I took steps backwards in my studies. I did a poor job of documenting where I was, what I did to get to that point. I wound up dancing back and forth in place. Last year, after a conversation with several people at Gulf Coast Gathering, I buckled down my resolve to finish, and changed my attitude towards my studies. As a result, I am continuing down the road with what I must learn in the Bardic Grade, and am taking far better notes – not just on what I am learning, but also HOW I am learning it. The idea/hope is that I will be able to take those lessons and apply those going forward into the Ovate Grade, provided I am accepted to move forward.

Lastly, there is my tie to two First Nations trickster Gods. Crow and Coyote. Coyote started my journey, with lessons concerning the degree of seriousness I approached the world around me. I have learned to be a bit looser with the way I approach the world, and to not only find the positive in the world — but also find the humor in situations. Even when things look catastrophically bad. Earlier this month, I purchased a camper. I have no idea how to back it up properly. To get it into my driveway, I drove through my front yard in order to pull it down my driveway in a semi-straight line. That, I could back up. It certainly smacked of being a silly situation….and I can laugh about it. It happened. It was a silly solution, but it was still a solution.

Every day is a new moment for me. I greet the sun’s rise, and try to approach the day with a new motivation, a new vision to accomplishing tasks set before me, and with new eyes so I can try and discover new pathways that I did not notice before. At the end of the day, I say goodnight to the sun, and ask for the promise that He will rise again for tomorrow’s dawn. I set aside my frustrations over the course of the day, and prepare for an evening where I can relax, read, or study. My daily Path is about constantly learning, focusing, relaxing, and then refocusing again – all with the measure that each day is a new start. And each new day allows me to take new, fresh steps on my daily Path…find new connections I had not considered before, and strengthen the connections I already have. My Past through the Catholic faith, the southern Baptist faith, and within Wicca have helped bring me here. Whether the lessons I learned were negative, positive, or neutral does not matter. There was something to be gleaned from those times within my life. Paganism is the stream that brought me to where I am now, opened my eyes and mind to the perspective of individual Gods and Goddesses, and has renewed my faith in that perspective each and every day. I am on a pathway of Druidry, as a Polytheist Pagan. That’s who I am. But I can never discount or demean where I have come from. All of that is a part of me as well.

IMG_9670

Remembering My Journey – Part 2 – Wicca, Paganism, the US Military and the Gods

From the very beginning, it was obvious to me that Wicca was not a complete fit for me. I was still grappling with the concept of duality (God and Goddess) within the bounds of what I had been taught. In trying to understand that both God and Goddess were separate entities, I fell back to my Catholic roots. Much like there was Big Daddy, Junior and the Spook (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the concept of God and Goddess found fertile ground in my understanding of my personal spirituality. It still wasn’t quite what I believed, but I barely had any manner of explaining how I really felt about the concept of God, Goddess, and my own personal approach. So, this was enough for me for the time being. I could shoehorn my own beliefs into this, at least for the time being. Perhaps the terminology and concepts I would learn going forward would be helpful in generating my own perceptions. So like a lady trying on shoes in Al Bundy’s shoe store, I pushed as much as I could into the boundaries provided, and pretended that it fit.

July 1992
Me – USAF – July 1992

Now, I joined the United States Air Force in 1986, so here I was just a little over a year in and I found my first area of controversy. I worked the night shift at the Carswell Air Force Base (Fort Worth) data processing facility. My shift was comprised of five individuals and myself. Of those five, four were charismatic Christians. Like charismatics in the military, they were over-the-top about their beliefs, and not afraid to shove their beliefs down your throat. My first night on shift, with Drawing Down the Moon to read, lead to all kinds of problems. I caught attitude from all four of these preacher-types. One of them lived three doors down from me in the dorms. He continued the same in-your-face moments with me outside of the work place. Complaints to my chain of command about my work ethic started to crop up. I went from being the guy who knew the mainframe system better than the civilian engineers from UniSys to being the problem child. In 1990, my transfer orders for Germany came in, and I danced inside at the idea of being away from these people.

Practicing Pagans -- Stars and Stripes -- 13Oct1992 -- Page 14Practicing Pagans -- Stars and Stripes -- 13Oct1992 -- Page 15

Germany proved no different. I wound up in another duty section with a born-again Christian, but here my beliefs were respected. As long as I kept my beliefs to myself, there were no problems. Religious discussions were typically avoided. And I found a group of individuals who were not only sympathetic to my position as a Pagan, when I was featured in the centerfold story of “Practicing Pagans” for the Stars and Stripes newspaper – they kindly poked fun at me (my last name was misspelled as “Ban Hook” in the story). This was also the time frame where I parted ways with Wicca.

As I noted before, Wicca never really fit what I understood as my own personal Spirituality. I just never had the words to understand. But I did have the companionship of the people that were part of the coven I studied with. When I left for Germany, I had none of that. I was on my own. And I had a better understanding of Paganism; a better understanding of the dual concepts of the God and Goddess; and a stronger understanding of polytheism. I finally had concepts that fit what I believed – a wider, more expansive view of the perspective of Deities, specifically Gods and Goddesses. With no group to provide an anchorage, I started to explore my own concepts of Paganism. Without that safe harbor of a coven, I found other Pagans in my nearby communities. We banded together under the moniker of “The Pagan Support Group” (which always seemed silly for a title), and I started to learn more about how other Pagans approached their beliefs, their rituals, and their Spirituality. It was here that I started describing myself as a “neo-Pagan”. I wasn’t trying to recreate something from earlier history. I was constructing my own Path through the forests.

And the forests of Germany was where I once again found myself feeling free. Much like the years where I spent time volksmarching as a kid through the woods – I found myself taking long walks in the woods very near to the military base housing I lived in. And it was in these woods that I had my first experience with a Spirit of Place.

Carving at a Roman Spring
Celtic/Roman Shrine – Kindsbach, Germany

I was walking along a ridge above the Celtic/Roman shrine that you see in the picture. This is just west of a small town called Kindsbach, which itself is just west of the outskirts of the city of Kasierslautern. It is in the wooded area just to the south of the football field on the west side of Kindsbach. The ridge above this comes to the edge of a small 40-ish foot cliff to the path that runs right part this shrine. The area is frequently walked by the residents of the area, and they pick up most of the trash. I spent time getting the stuff that they generally missed or was a bit too far for them to reach. On this particular day, I had gotten close to the edge of the ridge, which kicks my Acrophobia into high gear. So I sat down with my back against a tree and tried to collect my breath. I shut my eyes, and felt a presence. I neither heard nor felt any specific communication, but felt a feeling of “thanks”. At first I took no notice of it. But every single time I came back, I felt that same feeling. And on the day I knew would be my last time there – when I knew I was going back to the States the next day – I could feel sorrow at my leaving. I stayed there until nightfall, which is not advised because of the wild boar population. When I walked back to my microbus (what I was driving at the time), I stopped and turned back to look at the wooded visage in front of me. It felt like a small child was hugging both of my legs tightly. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and will return some time in my lifetime to revisit this place.

That single experience opened my eyes to a much wider world of Spirituality. Monotheism, and Duotheism would never be workable concepts for me. I finally had the words to understand what I believed. I believe in many Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, Spirits of Ancestors….polytheism. The belief in many, individual Gods and Entities. Now my Spiritual Path would lead me to find a framework on which to build my personal Spiritual beliefs upon.

 

Remembering My Journey – Part 1 – Pre-Pagan Beginnings

Usually, for the blog, I think of a topic that piques my interest and write. Sometimes, its a response to another blogger’s post. And every once in a while I get a question from someone wanting me to write on something. That’s the case for this particular post. One of the folks over at the podcast’s page on Facebook commented that it would be interesting if I blogged about about how I came to where I am on my own Spiritual Path. I have talked about little pieces of this throughout the blog. But never all of it at once. So, let’s give it a whirl. Warning:  this is going to be in a couple of pieces….

img_0159While my true walk into a Pagan Path starts somewhere around 1987, the true beginnings are much further back than that. Back in my pre-teen years. I was raised in a military (US Air Force) family, and moving from location to location was the theme of the week for me. I was born in Tokyo, Japan, moved to Washington DC; Del Rio, Texas; and Weisbaden, West Germany in the span of a handful of years. From the age of six, I started doing volksmarching with my parents on the weekends, which usually had us walking 10 kilometers in the German fields and forests. At the end of the walking, I got a nice little medal (which I still have a huge pile of these), and my parents would stop at one of the local vendors to get soft drinks for my mother, my sister and I while my father enjoyed a local brew. Walking in the forests and open fields provided me with the love of being in the forests and fields that I have today. Looking backwards, this is really the start of where my personal Spiritual Path begins.

But that’s the reverence of Nature part. My first taste of the Gods comes in nearly the same time frame. As I have posted before, it was through a set of Encyclopedias. The Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses were presented to me in this way. And this also helped fuel a love affair I have had in World History with the Roman Empire. It was nearly a decade later, that Gary Gygax and TSR helped me see the wider world of polytheism, through the deities__demigods_front_cover_first_editioneyes of Dungeons and Dragons. Yeah.  AD&D helped to open my eyes with the interesting and (for a teenager with little desire to read) expansive tome “Deities and Demi-Gods”. Once again, Roman and Greek Gods and Goddesses were presented, but so were Norse, Celtic, Sumerian, Japanese, Chinese, and many others. It literally allowed me to see a world filled with Gods and Goddesses that were individual entities. Of course, none of that filtered into my mind as real, tangible entities. After all, Dungeons and Dragons was just a game where you used your imagination. There definitely was more to come.

All during this time, I was being brought up in Catholic schools. Not because my family was Catholic, both of my parents were Protestants who didn’t go to church. I was sent to Catholic schools to get “a better education than I could in public schools,” which I certainly did. I finished next to last in my class in overall GPA. But my collegiate test scores showed that I was capable of far more than I ever managed in class. In my senior year of high school, I decided to move on from the Catholic faith system, I never participated in the mass other than to stand, sit and kneel at the appointed times. I never took communion, nor did I ever sit in a confessional (I think Father Reising would have had a heart attack if I confessed all the “sins” I had committed by the time I was seventeen). I moved along to the southern Baptist faith, which seemed to have prettier ladies and a co-ed softball team I could play on (my interests were hardly along the Spiritual lines at this point in my life).

My experiences within the southern Baptist soured me completely on religion as a whole. All I heard about was how I was a disappointment in the eyes of God. How I needed to hit my knees and beg forgiveness every single day of my life, in the hopes of having begged hard enough that God would let me into “Paradise” when everything was done. I constantly heard from adults that my long hair was “not acceptable” – a comment that was always made out of the earshot of others. Honestly, if I wanted to hear comments like that, I only needed to go home and listen to my conservative father’s comments after he had a beer or two.

It doesn’t take me long to move on from this, and I spend a few years not even thinking about my religious beliefs. I join the military, and leave the “religion” area of my dog tags blank. While in the military, I begin dating a Wiccan. She was a few years older than me, but we attempted to make a go of things. One of the first things that was brought up was her beliefs. She handed me three books to read before we even started our overall conversation: Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon”, Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance”, and Raymond Buckland’s “Witchcraft From the Inside”. Of the three books, I really get into Adler’s. I wind up purchasing a copy of this from a local Pagan book shop for myself, and read through it another four times. The year?  Yep, we’ve reached that 1987 point that I mentioned before. Where things go from here….is part of the next post.

…and Home to the Fey

After driving for four solid days on America’s interstate system (and some of its back roads), I found that spending time in the cab of a pickup truck by myself allowed for a lot of time for thinking. And with no one to bounce ideas or concepts off of…I eventually had conversations with myself in my own mind. Most of those conversations came about because of unique moments. Such as the moment when I realized I was driving into the mountains (more like very tall hills, but who is really counting?) near Mammoth Cave National Park, and my revolving music playlist started up with “The Hills They Are Hollow” by Damh the Bard. I had to pull over into the next rest area, sit outside on a picnic bench and marvel at the world around me.

IMG_0243The mountains have a huge appeal factor for me. Just being in the mountains makes me feel at home, and a lot calmer than I am out here on the plains, where I live. During this part of my trip, I was driving in a narrow construction zone with eighteen wheelers and other traffic zooming around me (I was driving the posted speed limit). I know I should have felt nervous, but instead I felt calm and assured. In a similar construction zone on the east side of Memphis, Tennessee (the previous day), I was extremely nervous and agitated with the same type of traffic around me. I know I am in kinship with the Spirits of Place in mountainous areas.

That kinship with Spirits of Place is something I have started to explore in more depth. Each time I go into a mountainous area, I spend time just being outside – hiking, sitting, walking, standing – just being. Opening myself to the moment and the feeling. There is really no way to describe the feeling I have – other than being calm, and clear-headed. Anything that is happening elsewhere in my Life is on hold during that time. I am right there, focused on that moment – drinking in all the sensations and experiences I can.

Quite a while back, I had mentioned somewhere about a conversation I had with a fellow coworker. His questions were concerning where I get my moral authority from. My response was that I certainly don’t get it from a book. At one time in my life, I had my feet firmly planted in the Christian faith. But during that entire time, I never felt comfortable with the mandates and rules that came from its pages. Particularly when I was told that the Pastor or Preacher or Priest needed to “interpret” what was written there. I was even more uncomfortable, when I realized that the Bible was considered to be “divine inspiration” even though it was translated into the English from the Latin and was translated into the Latin from the Greek. And when I started to realize that passages in the Bible could be countermanded with other passages from the same Bible – I began to not trust what I was told to believe in blindly.

I understand my own moral code. I should not kill others out of spite or simply because they are different. I should not shun others who are different either. I trust people when they give me reasons to trust them. I should stop people from harming others. I should strive towards finding peaceful solutions to issues as a primary means. I didn’t need a book to teach me this. I only had to place myself in the shoes of the other person and think of how I would want to be treated. Call that the Golden Rule or whatever you want to…I just know that is where my compass is.

I follow the Old Gods. That does not mean that I think everyone MUST follow the Old Gods. Nor does it mean that I have a grip on how others should follow the Old Gods. Nor does it mean that I understand the relationship between others and the Gods and Goddess I am drawn towards. My relationship with Them is as unique as it is between any of Them and others. I am not the Gatekeeper to Polytheism…and if there ever was such a position – I wouldn’t want it in the first place.

But all of that, coupled with being out in Nature – particularly mountains – is what makes me feel alive. Every single moment of every single day. On the worst days I have experienced to the most incredible experiences that I cannot even begin to describe. And driving through the mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky made me feel that exhilaration. I felt “at home”. I felt “calm”. I felt positively alive. I wanted to stop the truck on the side of the interstate and climb up into the woods around me. I wanted to feel the leaves of the trees in my hands, and the warmth of the sun-soaked soil between my toes. I wanted that moment of ecstasy. I settled for sitting on a picnic bench in a rest area along the interstate. And it was enough.

And during all that time, I could feel the soft warmth of Fliodhas’ hand on one shoulder, Crow’s claws digging in slightly on the other, and the warm fur coat of Coyote in my hand at my side. And I could hear the words in my mind:  “There’s deep, old magick in these mountains. You should explore more.” And I certainly shall….

Two Pence – Pagan Leadership

IMG_9670Leadership scares the shit out of me. Seriously. I have noted this a few times: some folks look at me as a “natural” leader. I maintain that I am not. But my reasoning, while gathered from a fictional character in a movie, is weak at best.

In a scene from the Sylvester Stallone movie “The Demolition Man”, the character of Edgar Friendly makes the statement: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes people come with me.” It is a snarky line, but it is also an issue of pushing the leadership off into space.

See, there are leadership qualities that people have – the ability to think quickly on your feet. The ability to break problems into workable tasks. The ability to delegate those workable tasks to people who have the ability to get those done. And the ability to motivate people to get things done. For some strange reason, I have some of the ability to motivate people. I know that I have the ability to break problems down into workable tasks. I do that every day in my job. I also have the ability to stay calm when things come apart at the seams. But I have to be honest and give the United States Air Force the credit for some of this as well. All of that is delineated into a particular skillset. Its called troubleshooting.

In my opinion, troubleshooting is not a skillset of leadership. It is a skillset of the Troubleshooter, which is something I do consider myself to be. I enjoy taking situations that are in chaos, sorting things out, prioritizing what needs to be done, and rolling up my sleeves and getting arm deep in the issues. I can be problematic when I am in this mode. I can push those that are in a position of leadership out of the way. Essentially picking them up, setting them to one side, and saying: “Stay right there until I solve this. Then you can have the steering wheel again.” In my military career, I have told Commissioned Officers to “get the fuck out of the way” while trying to resolve mainframe systems issues. It never made me popular with the Officers, but the enlisted folks (of which I was) loved me for it.

But let’s be clear on something. I never shoved people out of the way, unless I was sure that I could resolve the problem. In the Air Force, I knew my systems inside and out. In two locations, only the Field Engineers were more knowledgeable than the 23-year old me on how the system operated. Older non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers learned to get out of the way when I was called in to repair things. But I had to earn that kind of respect, by showing that I could resolve problems that were set in front of me. That’s not a skill of leadership. Rather that’s a skillset of technical ability. And that technical ability masked on arrogance that I had.

Leadership is not about shoving people out of the way and proclaiming yourself the expert. A better version of me – now nearly thirty years down the line and full of life experiences – would counsel the twenty-three year old me to not shove people out of the way, but counsel them on how to resolve the problem, looking over their shoulders, and explaining why this particular issue was resolved in this particular way. Leadership is not about pointing and directing. That’s a task for ego-maniacs. And I have seen plenty of my share of these in the Pagan community. A Leader teaches others how to resolve the problems, allowing their hands to be the ones that turn the wrenches and use the tools, while explaining the reasoning behind each process.

Leadership is a status that is earned. Rightly or wrongly. The individual(s) empowering you into a position of leadership have confidence in your ability to resolve issues, and put things into motion. Sometimes, you have this bit of respect thrust upon you. For example, a newcomer to Paganism or Polytheism will look to you as their example of what it means to be [x] within Paganism or Polytheism. Whether you wanted that role or not, it is given to you. Even after you explain that you’re no leader, in your best Edgar Friendly impersonation. And if you think about it…it is a weak explanation, as well.

See, I am nearly fifty-one years old this year. I have been in Paganism in one capacity or another since 1987. That’s twenty-nine years of being a Pagan. I was a doe-eyed newbie at one time too. Anyone who had been in Paganism for any length of time, regardless of Path, was an incredible person to me. Until I met Pattalee. She ran one of the few local Pagan bookstores in the area with her (then) husband. I would go down there, and tentatively sit one a bar stool next to the jewelry counter. And I would ask questions, and listen to the answers – hanging on her every word. I guess she humored me at first. But after a while, instead of answering my questions, she would prompt me to answer my own questions. Then, she would have a long, prolonged discussion of where my logic was incorrect, and where I made assumptions that had no factual basis. Instead of puzzling things out for me, she quietly prompted me to learn from myself. Sadly, she passed away quite some time back, and her ex-husband eventually closed the store. But I always remembered those talks, and how she dealt with the doe-eyed newbie sitting in front of her.

After her passing beyond the veil, it took nearly another decade before I realized that she talked with me through a position of leadership. The authority of leadership had been given to her by me. She most likely didn’t want it, but she accepted it – and led me gently towards the habit of puzzling things out for myself. She gently showed me how to look inside myself and find the answers that I was needing. And pointed out how the “truths” as I found them applied to me, and not necessarily to others. Leadership is not about molding people forcibly, but showing them the potential that is inside of themselves.

Newbies may hand you a mantle of leadership, simply because you have been around longer than they have. Throwing that mantle back in their faces and saying that you’re no leader is not the way to handle things. Folding that mantle up, and setting it to the side, with care and reverence respects the responsibility that you have been handed. And eventually, you will be able to gently, and with respect, hand that mantle back to those newbies – pointing out that they have always been able to fend for themselves. In my opinion, this is how we grow our Pagan community. We don’t grow leaders in this process. Some of those newbies will become leaders in their own right. We grow self-sufficient Pagans and Polytheists, able to handle themselves as Solitary practitioners of their own connectivity with the Gods, and able to work within the wider ranging Pagan and Polytheist communities as individual parts of the whole. Able to be Priests/Priestesses and Leaders without becoming tyrants. Able to teach others how to grow, without delineating debilitating and crippling dogma that creates a belief structure that is too rigid to be flexible with the changing world around us. We grow Pagans and Polytheists that learn to cultivate their relationships with others, the Gods, the Spirits of Place, and Spirits of Ancestors, while expanding their understanding of those connections and their own position within those sacred relationships.

Yeah, I can claim to not be a leader. That I just do things, and sometimes people come along. But in the end, that statement – while playful – is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to the people that come along. It is a wise-ass dismissal of the authority that they hand to me. It is slapping the respect that they have for me as an elder in the wider Pagan community, while laughing in their face with my flippant comment. And to be honest, it is long past time for me to ditch the attitude. I’m a podcaster and a blogger in the Pagan community. I make commentary on how I feel about Paganism and Polytheism from both platforms. And whether I want to agree with it or not, I set myself out there for my opinions to be read. And people respect me for that. Yes, some of them hand me their respect as an authority., as an elder. And I need to return that respect as well. I need to follow Pattalee’s example, and fold up that mantle and set it to the side. And listen.

Pagan leadership is about helping the community. Troubleshooting issues. Listening. Growing Pagans that are new to this Path. Leadership is about being the appropriate example to our community. And we are all leaders, in one capacity or another.

Two pence….  –T /|\

Shedding Our Christian Clothes

This weekend, I am putting together the latest episode of “Upon a Pagan Path” and I am featuring a talk from Cat Treadwell on Priesthood. This weekend is also the Many Gods West conference, which I wish I had the vacation time to go to, but unfortunately do not. There’s always next year though. However, both of these particular points have helped clear some of the fog I have had on what I am writing about now – the growing future of modern Paganism.
Before I get going too far, let me preface all of this with one point: this is completely my opinion and perspective. I do realize that there will be those who disagree with me on the overall context of what I am presenting, and perhaps even just in the manner in which I am presenting it. I am not writing this to create a reaction. I am writing this as the start of a conceptual dialogue. Much of this comes directly from listening to conversations that were had in open, public space within Pantheacon, as well as a few private conversations had around campfires at OBOD East Coast and Gulf Coast Gatherings. Other parts of this were inspired from the writings of other bloggers, such as John Beckett, Byron Ballard, Shauna Aura Knight, as well as the writings of Authors such as Joanna van der Hoeven, Cat Treadwell, Nimue Brown, and many, many others. The conceptual idea behind this post arrives directly from those campfire conversations, where a few people have gathered around, and take on the role of “solving the world’s problems” over a cup of beer underneath a blanket of stars. So, please understand, I am not seeking debate…I am attempting to start a conversation, whose roots go back into all that I have read, discussed, and overheard over the last two-plus years. Hopefully, in the end, you’ll not only understand, but also start to ask similar questions and seek out campfire conversations under similar night skies.
There are plenty of “introduction” books and blogs and podcasts out there. Lots of information for the Pagan taking their initial steps on this Path. Many breadcrumb trails for the exploring Seeker to locate and follow as they grow their knowledge and understanding of something that seems foreign, new, and fresh. But what about those who are looking to grow their knowledge and understanding beyond these introductory points? And those who are wanting to create new knowledge?
In the past, I have discussed some of the difficulties I have in accepting the title of “Priest” within what I do as a polytheist Pagan. But as I have started to dive deeper and deeper into my personal studies, I have started to notice a trend that has helped explain parts of my trepidation. Many of us “elders” (another term I have had some difficulty with, and for some of the same reasons I am about to note) came to Paganism from other initial Paths. Many of us started out our lives being taught aspects of the various Christian faiths in our youth. As such, many of the similar terms that we utilize within our Paganism continues to hold an undercoat of what we learned about Christianity. Let’s face it, when people talk about “priests” – many of us normally envision a Catholic Priest, or perhaps even a Baptist preacher, each leading in the instruction of their respective faiths to their seated, quite and respectful congregations. Yet, when we talk about being Priests within the Pagan community, our understanding of the term can sometimes be at complete odds with what we initially learned in our lives.
I can easily state that I am no Priest in the same vein as a Catholic Priest or even a Baptist preacher. The very thought of being similar to either of these archetypes makes me cringe in horror. Neither of these functions are what I do as a Priest to Fliodhas. Nor are either of these concepts what I do as an ally of Crow and Coyote. Yes, I perform rituals to honor each of them, as well as other Gods. I perform rituals to honor the cycles of the Year. I read books, magazines, and bloggers to grow my knowledge and understanding on various topics and ideas, and perhaps people get similar things from what I write. I am a Priest, just not in the sense of what I perceive of that term from Christian upbringing.
But then there are so many other terms that we utilize in our Pagan practices that are heavily tinged in understanding from the Christian faith. Ritual. Sacrifice. Priest. Rites. Celebration. And the list can continue on and on. I have begun to wonder whether its this slight tinge from our collective pasts that can cause problems for us in transitioning from 101 Pagan thought to growing towards 201 Pagan thought – to borrow a piece of imagery from the collegiate community.
So who dressed our Priests, Priestesses and to some degree our rituals in these definitions? That would be us. We brought our own understanding and luggage from our earlier years with us. Our understanding of authoritarian figures such as the Priest and Preacher came from our early years in our respective churches. Our understanding that the patriarchal figures were those that could interpret the holy scriptures for us at the Sunday morning congregations came from the heavily male-oriented Christian models that were a part of nearly every Sunday we partook as a family. Arriving within Paganism, this male dominated perspective was one of the easier things to shake off for most of us. Providing an equal voice between the sexes was not a massive jump. But shedding the clothes that we put on the archetypes of leadership in the form of the Priest and preacher are far more difficult to remove. Even when females fill those roles, we still ascribe similar functions and authority to those roles.
IMG_0215And its not just those roles that provide the stumbling blocks. Our symbolism of what ritual is to each of us is rooted in that same Sunday-morning programming that we had undertaken. We come together. We open our ritual. We sing together. We allow the authoritarian figure to speak of what the celebration means. We celebrate our rite, we sing again, we close. We go home, and change out of our Pagan-day clothes and rejoin our regularly scheduled day.
Some folks are refreshed from these ceremonies and rituals. They allow the experience to get hold of them and enjoy the ecstatic experience that their beliefs bring to them. Others, go through the motions, and are content with being around others txt they consider to be friends – not partaking in the ecstatic experience that their beliefs provide. And all of that is fine. Each participant will get what they can/want from it. But I am left to wonder, are the tinges of Christian faith holding back the ability to grow our Paganism?
Interestingly enough, we have a phenomenon currently taking place in today’s Pagan communities that was not as large nor as prevelant as before: we have young adults coming into their own within our community that have known an entire upbringing as Pagans. From my perspective, I would term this young adults as “native Pagans”, but that term may not be completely appropriate. But I am excited to see where they will take Paganism in the coming years, without the constraints and wrappings that may be there with definitions and terminology tinged from a monotheistic belief system. I am curious if they will strip the terms and definitions down to the bare bone, and then build those up in their own understanding? And if they did, where will it go?
I have several discussions on the Blogosphere that have talked about “rewinding” Paganism – taking it back to its roots, in order to allow it to progress forward in a different manner. On this, I complete agree. I do believe that Paganism – at least my own individual understanding of it – needs to take a step backwards in order to progress forward. That I need to strip back the meaning and definitions of some of the terminology I use – particularly those where I find myself averse to the usage of it because of the Christian clothing I have dressed it in since my youth. bring it back to the barest definition, and then build it up from there – carefully, slowly – insuring that I only add perspectives and perceptions that work directly for me, and shed the clothing from a monotheistic belief system that no longer works for me or fits into my daily practice.
Its my sincere belief, that its the tinge of Christianity which plays a huge part in how Paganism gets hold back in a 101 stance, when it could move forward into a 201 stance. I also believe that each individual will need to assess how much, if at all, that this restrains some of the growth of Paganism into the future. For some, what I am suggesting might be a silly notion, and I understand that. For others, they may see a lot of what stilts and stunts their own personal growth, and need to step back and re-evaluate. I wonder whether this is something that the over-arching Pagan community may need to look over and evaluate as well, going into the future? On that particular perspective, I can’t answer. My Path is mine to walk on my own. I sure don’t mind the company during parts of it though. So, please walk alongside with me if you like.

Thoughts on Spiritual Flexibility

Elf-olithic Stone Circle

There’s plenty of fodder out there in the news cycle to read. What is going to happen now that the Hillary Clinton Email issue has been set to rest? What outrageous thing is Donald Trump going to say tonight in order to grab tomorrow morning’s headlines? Is Jill Stein really a worthy Presidential candidate? What about the upcoming Major League Baseball All-Star lineup? Did the right players get voted in? Who got snubbed by the vote? Will the movie “The Secret Life of Pets” be a box office hit or flop?

Lots of stories, opinions, and editorial commentary to read. Enough to spend your entire day in front of the computer screen. Enough for someone to forget about the true devotional service that they agreed to with certain Gods and Goddesses. Yes, it is important to read the news from time to time – keeping up on current events that are going on around you is an important part of being connected with a particular area of the world around. But so is morning devotionals. So is spending time outside in the yard, getting the earth underneath your feet. So is time in meditation.

Maintaining a daily practice can be tough. The news cycle beckons. Television programs that entertain and distract are just a channel click away. And sometimes those meditations can be so tedious. Yeah, I totally grok that.

Been there. Even quite recently. Its easy to get caught up in the wash of the news, the desire to sit back and totally veg out in front of the TV, or get completely lost in a good book. The hard part?  Getting back into that cycle you stepped off of.

After all, it was such a nice stopping point, right? You could take your eyes off the ball for a short while. Just relax. No need to place such intense focus on stuff like meditations, or getting that morning devotional picture-perfect-correct. But really, there’s a problem that is going to creep back in. Its the attitude. Yes, the attitude.

See, morning devotionals are not meant to be work. Its your recognition, and respect for a particular God or Goddess. Its your statement that you are willing to be there for particular workings for Them. The devotional is not work. Its a statement. The Gods will let you know when They have need of you. That’s where the work comes in, and that is for a different, but related, post. Back to this not being “work”….

One’s Spiritual beliefs are what they are. What you believe is what you believe. I happen to believe in the Gods and Goddesses. You – whoever might be reading this – may have a belief in something different, or even nothing at all. But whatever the case may be, it shouldn’t be “work” – at least in my opinion. Being in your element Spiritually is something that should feel natural, and welcoming to you. Don’t mistake what I am saying though. Growing in your Spirituality is, and should be, work to one degree or another. That’s actually important. Growing is about stretching your Spiritual muscles, and much like physical muscles, there’s work to be done for that to happen. But just being who you are Spiritually? That should be as natural and comfortable as your skin.

So what has happened with me?? Well, I realized that I can’t always make my devotional schedule every single day. Sometimes, the paying job gets in the way. After all, the bills still have to get paid. And I do like to eat. And sometimes, Life just gets in the way too. And as much as I enjoy being a Solitary practitioner – my family (DNA and otherwise) are a part of who I am. No matter how much I may disagree with them on various issues. So, I try to be diligent about my morning devotionals. And I try not to beat myself up when I miss a day or two for whatever reason. I am quite sure that the Gods and Goddesses can understand when things happen (and when They might be the cause of that mischief and mayhem for their own momentary enjoyment). Plus, as I am not so strident about formal ritual – I have started to realize I can be impromptu about the timing of my devotionals as well. Sometimes, these can happen in the moonlight – rather than when the sun rises.

I’m a Pagan. I’m a Polytheist. And as I am starting to find out, I’m probably a Celt to some degree as well. But I am also flexible. I am not so rigid in what I believe, and what I practice, that my Spirituality becomes “work” instead of being a part of me. And as I grow, and “work” towards where I am striving to be within that framework of Spirituality — I am learning that I have to be flexible with gaining and understanding that growth as well. I am not a fundamentalist to the core. Things do not *have* to be a certain way at a certain time. if I wanted that kind of rote existence, I would have stayed in Catholicism. 🙂  YMMV

 

Into the Void….Again…

Every single year, its the same tired statements that arise:

There’s a war on Christmas! People are trying to take Christ out of Christmas! Christmas is a Pagan holiday taken by the Christians to gain converts!

Blah, blah, blah.

IMG_0140Over the past five to six years, I have penned a few blog posts making statements about how there is no war on Christmas, and that it really does not matter where Christmas originated. Its not about which religion it belongs to, it matters what is in your heart.

And that two sentence statement will be all I have to direct towards that. Because the truth is – no one is listening. Particularly on the internet.

What we have with the internet is a vast echo chamber, where people shout into it – expecting to hear a chorus of echoes on what they have shouted. They are not shouting to make a statement, rather they are shouting to be heard. And yes, I am quite aware that I am utilizing the very platform I am criticizing to make this statement.

Take a long, very detached look at the campaign of Donald Trump. He makes wild statements about various topics. Many of these statements are incendiary in nature. The kind of statements that old BBS users would liken to “flame-wars” or “trolling”. When people agree with him, they create the giant echo he is wanting to hear. When people disagree with him openly, particularly people who have some aspect of celebrity status that generates headlines, he berates them and insults them. This tactic is about drawing the message away from his statement, and placing the individual in a position of defending themselves against his baseless accusations. In my many years on BBS “debates” (I am reluctant to call those rolling arguments that wasted hours of time and effort a “debate”), I found this to be a strong tactic of those who were looking for the echo chamber, not a discussion.

But Trump is only a single example of this. A shining example, because of the oxygen that the media give to his claims. That stuff generates web-clicks, and issues sold…stuff that corporate giants need to infuse their systems with the lifeblood of money. Let’s face it folks, the internet has left the idea of being a free exchange of information and ideas long behind its current wake as a monetary intravenous system for companies. Furthermore, platforms such as Facebook – where many of you will click to read the entirety of this blog post here on WordPress – provide the perfect environment for shouting into the Echo Chamber Void that exists. We share memes that quote “famous” people on topics we agree with or in manners which showcase those same celebrities as being wrong-headed about some topic. But a short fact-finding mission can turn up these same quotes attributed to some other celebrity or politician or what-have-you. When your Druidry notes that seeking the truth is an exercise that one should undertake at any time, these confusing aspect of the memes that are quoted becomes extremely suspect. Even when the memes seem to be on target, or have a particular degree of snark that makes them darkly humorous.

Individual:  Hello?

Echo:  Hello?

Individual:  How are you?

Echo:  Doing great!

Individual:  How’s the wife and kids?

Echo:  They’re doing great too!  Thanks for asking!

This was a routine that Disney put out at one time when I was a kid. My father recorded this particular album onto a cassette tape, so we kids could hear some Disney on the long trips through Europe in our family vehicle:  a 1970s Ford Pinto.

On the internet, this is the kind of discourse that many folks do not want. A give and take conversation. They want the people to click the “like” button, and occasionally make a “me too!” comment. After all, knowing that others share your perspective is a powerful way of affirming who you are, what you believe, and provides support for one’s internal question of “why do I believe this.” I’m not immune from this anymore than anyone else. When I attended events such as the ADF Imbolc Retreat in south-central Texas, or the OBOD East-Coast and Gulf-Coast gatherings, I am spending time with people who believe a similar manner to myself. We are not completely the same in our beliefs, but our core values are much the same. Gathering with folks like these, talking with them, discussing/debating/arguing topics with them, and gathering together in ritual – all of that helps me to realize I am not alone in this world with my faith and beliefs. But I am also among folks who will hold me accountable for my statements and actions according to those beliefs as well. In discussion, they will question my reasoning, and help me to place my thinking onto solid ground. Its similar to the Echo Chamber Void that I mentioned, except that there is interaction of a critical analysis nature. Very rarely do you see that within the Echo Chamber Void of the internet.

So, back to the annual Christmas debate thing. This year, I decided not to write a post about why both sides in the fray are wrong-headed. Rather, this year I am choosing not to wade into that fray. No one is going to listen. The shouting there is to merely be heard for the sake of being heard. Neither side is going to resolve the entire issue. Furthermore, its almost a proxy war for other issues.

[initiate dream sequence]

After all, if our side can win the Starbucks red-cup debate and get “Merry Christmas” and a manger scene depicted on the side of the cup; it stands to reason that we can tackle our next major topic of getting the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, right?  And once we tackle and win that topic, we can then petition Congress to set forth legislation that makes America a Christian nation. All people would need to bend their knee to Christ, and profess their faith or get the hell out of our Christian country!  Yes!  ::crowd roars approvingly::

[end dream sequence]

Yeah, sorry to disappoint some, but I have no desire to play in the internet proxy war throughout the social media platforms. If Starbucks wants to depict a manger scene on their cups, and emblazon “Merry Christmas!” all over it – more power to them. If I am in your store, and you wish me a “Merry Christmas”, a “Happy Yule”, or whatever else you might think of – I’ll smile, say “thank you, you too!” and carry my purchases out to my car. I will celebrate Yule as the Pagan that I am. And have no desire that you do as well.

I have no need or desire to shout into the void any longer. Rather, I have a belief system that works just fine for me, a strange triad of Gods and a Goddess that I work with, and no desire to be a Christian of any shape or form. In the end, if my choices concerning this bother you, you may need to re-evaluate how your faith works for you…rather than trying to force it to work for me.

 

Why Crow?? An Attempted Explanation of Sorts…

My Backyard Stone CircleThis morning, I got up – went downstairs and made a cup of coffee. Then I stood there in the kitchen, my cup in my hands, and looked out the kitchen window at my backyard. In the darkness, I could barely make out my little stone circle with my Kokopelli statue in the center of it. Everything looked quiet. What a strange way to phrase the statement, but that’s the impression I had as I watched the light slowly grow in intensity as the Sun rose – fulfilling its promise from the evening before when it dipped below the horizon in the west. The colors of the sky started with mellow, almost muted tones, as the sun started its climb into the sky. Those tones got harsher and brighter with each passing moment, as the sun’s intensity grew. I closed my eyes for a moment, and silently thanked the sun for its return.

If you have read this blog with any regularity, you recognize this as my morning ritual. My greeting of the sun and the day. Its a simple process, and to be completely honest, its not always the same. Sometimes, I stand outside. Sometimes, the sky is too cloudy to see the sun. Sometimes, I oversleep and get up long after the sun has risen over the horizon. Regardless, I still take a few moments in the morning to look out at my backyard and see how the day is going to be striped – to steal an American Football analogy.

I’m not a person who really enjoys staid rituals. I’m a bit more improvisational in those terms. Why?  Because each moment we have is unique. A few moments ago, is not now nor will it be a few moments from now. It may have similarities, but its not the exact same moment. Now, before the folks that really get into practiced, rehearsed, very formal ritual processes freak out – I am not advocating a removal of all that in favor of improvisational ritual. I am merely pointing out that this is what works for me. I am not the type of person to make an empirical statement that everyone should do things exactly as I say. In fact, I do believe that even within my own Spirituality, there is a place for formalized ritual. Just not in my daily, morning practice.

Which brings me to where my thought is (did ya’ll enjoy that short ride to here?) this morning. It revolves around a simple question that another Pagan once asked me:  “Why Crow?”

Its a fair question. My immediate DNA heritage is primarily European/Germanic. Should those Gods not call to me? Why am I not drawn to Teutonic or even Celtic Gods and mythology? Looking through my family tree, there is an instance of one First Nations (I like that term better than “Indian” or “Native American”) ancestor, but no more than that. So why a First Nations God??

Well, first off, I don’t believe we get to pick and choose which God or Goddess will speak to us directly. We can definitely frame our worship and our rituals around a specific God or Goddess or even an entire mythos, but when we are approached, chosen and claimed by a specific God or Goddess — its not that simple. My relationship with Crow came in a round-about manner. I was wanting to work with a Trickster God. Loki was never a strong pull for me. However, Coyote provided a lot of qualities that I was wanting to explore. A semi-serious side, along with a playful aspect as well. I formed my meditations around Coyote. I learned to not take myself so seriously. I learned how to play within my Spirituality. And I eventually encountered Crow. I wasn’t seeking out Crow. I was sought out by Crow. I didn’t get to choose.

Second, and perhaps far more important for me, is that I have no idea who and what I may have been in a previous incarnation. I hear the moans and groans of people not wanting me to bring reincarnation theory into the conversation, as well as those who are muttering about cultural misappropriation under their breaths. I get the point of both aspects, but I don’t agree. Furthermore, I’m not really going to debate either perspective. That’s not my point nor would it ever be. Why a First Nations God? To be perfectly frank – I have no way to explain it to you. However, my ritual focus resembles nothing of a First Nations ceremony. In this incarnation, I am a white, European-based male. I can only approach my spirituality from what calls to me. Not from where my DNA comes from.

Again, I am not looking to debate the “right” or “wrong” of Crow choosing me. If you are looking for a debate on cultural appropriation or something along those lines – you’ve reached the wrong blog post. But this is my attempted explanation of why this particular mythos seems to call to me. And as a way of a third explanation, perhaps its because of where I live. This particular geographic area is very well connected with First Nations Gods and Goddesses. But in the end, whatever the reasoning does not matter all that much to me. And to be perfectly frank, I gave up trying to figure out whether any of my theories of “why” are right or wrong quite a while back. Whatever label you may want to put on it…go ahead. In the end, its what is right for me at this unique moment in time…for whatever reason. I gave up on reasoning why a long time ago….

Why Not Christianity? (Part III)

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013
DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013 – These are my kindred people

In the first two posts of this “series” – I took a look into how I try to answer the questions posed to me:  “Why Paganism?” and “Why Druidry?” In a manner of speaking, those particular questions were fairly easy to answer. Both questions allowed me to focus on what and who I am – and the reasons why I am on those particular Paths in my life. This last question is a little more difficult, because it is the exact opposite. I must take my focus away from something positive and step over towards answering a question in the negative. And to make it even more difficult, I will have to try and do this, without sounding like I am bashing on a belief system that many people I know find uplifting and positive influences in their own lives. If you feel that this post comes across as bashing on your beliefs or being overly critical or overtly negative on your beliefs – please, that is not my intention. I am merely trying to be open about how I answer this question that I get from my non-Pagan friends quite a bit:

Why not Christianity?

In some ways, its an unfair question. Sort of like asking someone that you just met if they have stopped physically abusing their significant other. And just like the other two questions, the best place to start an attempt at answering this question is from the beginning. Except, this time I have to go much further back. Into the late 1970s, in Montgomery, Alabama – my seventh, and eighth grade years.

My parents had started me at a public junior high school for the seventh grade. However, being a small, and uber-skinny kid, I was an easy target for bullies, and according to what they have told me – I did not thrive very well in large population classrooms. I vaguely recall Cloverdale Junior High School. About the only memories I really have are the line of school buses I had to walk in the mornings and afternoons – and my favorite class:  Reading. There were these speed-reading machines – designed to help you read faster and retain the information that you see.  You would read a short paragraph at a set speed, and then take a short multiple-choice quiz over the material. When you managed to score 100% on the quiz you could move up in speed, and in difficulty reading. I considered it a game, and did my best to not only excel in comparison to that of my classmates, but I wanted my times to be so great that no one could surpass me. And seriously, that is all I remember of that one year in public junior high school. Perhaps I blocked out the memories of being bullied by other kids…but whatever the case, my memories are not that vivid beyond that reading class and the school bus line.

My parents, wanting a good education for their oldest child, quickly moved me into Catholic school. As I have said before, my parents were not all that religious, but they were impressed with the education system that the school had – along with the small class populations. Trust me, as a college professor, it is far easier to deal with a class of twenty students than it is to deal with a class of sixty. Our Lady Queen of Mercy was the school I was enrolled into. Like any Catholic educational system, there was a class on the Catholic beliefs that each grade had to take. I read the materials, I did the homework. Much of the ritual aspect was really strange to me, but I managed to understand the basic precepts of what the Catholic faith was about. Jesus Christ died on the Roman crucifix and was resurrected to atone for the sins of humankind. Non-Christians were to be treated with the same kindness that any other human being should be – and the Christian should help them to understand the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Which was odd for me, since I did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Smeg folks, I was what…ten?  Eleven? Being the naive kid that I was – I figured it didn’t matter what I believed. Everyone at the school would accept me for who I was. Was I ever wrong.

One afternoon, on the way to the Catholic class, I mentioned to one of the other students that the class was “interesting” – particularly since I didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. Shocked gasps rose up from the back of the line (my last name starts with a “V” – I am therefore always near the end of whatever line has been created), which soon brought the Nun instructor to discover the issue. My message was relayed by another of the students, and I soon found myself being towed to the Principal’s office by my left ear. I was deposited into a chair at the foot of the Father’s desk, my statement relayed from the Nun to the Father (and I was told to keep quiet when I tried to interject). A few very nasty glares were sent my way, and both walked out of the office. I found out a bit later that a phone call had been made to my parents summoning them to the school. While I waited for them to arrive, the Father kept asking me whether I was demon-possessed (how the Nine Hells should I know?), then read the resurrection passages out of all four gospels. When my parents arrived, I was threatened with being kicked out of the school. All over my statement of non-belief.

To say that this confused the Nine Hells out of me was an understatement. I had been reading that the non-Christian was to be met with respect, treated with dignity, shown what the kindness of Jesus Christ’s mercy can do for the status of your own daily life. And here was the head of a church, treating me like I had farted in his new car. Needless to say, my parents were contrite to the Father over the issue – and furious with me. Which confused me further, since they had never shown any measure of piety prior to this.  From here, I moved on to Montgomery Catholic High School, where the Catholic classes continued, but I had learned to keep my mouth shut at this point.  And then my father decided to retire from the United States Air Force, and move the family to Shreveport, Louisiana – for my last two years of High School.

Once again, my parents deposited me into a Catholic School – Loyola College Preparatory School for Boys. That’s right. The two major Catholic High Schools were separated by the sexes. I found myself having to wear a school uniform. Once a month, the entire school participated in a Catholic Mass. At one point, my teacher remarked that I was the only individual in my class that understood when to sit, stand, kneel, and how to properly genuflect. When she further remarked that I probably did not know how to receive communion, I promptly stood, and showed the two proper methods for doing so.

Why don’t you receive Communion, Tommy?

Because Miss Tabereaux, I’m not Catholic.

You can imagine how popular all that made me with my classmates. But the Catholic class my Junior year was different than anything I had experienced before. The teacher, Mr. Lerchie, set the class up as a Comparative Religion class.  One quarter of the class, we studied the entire Passion Play aspect through the lens of the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. He posed questions to the class about whether the resurrection was a host – and utilized the lyrics of Judas Iscariot in the rock opera as an example of how it could be. For the first time, I had an authority figure provide me with permission (of sorts) to turn my beliefs over and over – and examine them in the light.

It was here that I first started to answer the question of “why not Christianity?” – it certainly wasn’t going to be Catholicism for me. I had seen too many instances of Catholic adherents treating one another with kindness, and looking down their noses with contempt at non-Christians – “the unbelievers” was the descriptive of derision that was to be worn like a Scarlet Letter by the non-adherent. But thanks to Mr. Lerchie’s Comparative Religion class, I was aware that there were many other forms of Christianity to try.

I peeked at many different forms of Christianity, before settling on the Southern Baptist side of things. In Shreveport, there are literally several dozen Southern Baptist churches in the city. I soon found out where some friends were attending, and joined them in services. It took about two months before I started realizing I did not fit in here either. There was one guy in the entire church with shoulder-length hair. With my thigh-length hair, it did not take long before the whispers fell around behind us – we were pot-smokers. And nothing could be further from the truth. The hardest drug we touched was a six-pack of beer on Friday nights. Before and after church, we could be found over on the fire escape, playing chess or writing poetry. We were about as Bohemian Hippie as one could get – except that we listened to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Stryper, and Messiah Prophet Band. We were metal-heads. It didn’t take long before people started forbidding their children from hanging out with us. And it wasn’t long until the hushed whispers turned into statements made out loud – just loud enough for us to hear. It didn’t take me long before I realized that this wasn’t where I needed to be.

Over the next five years, I would study about Christianity on my own. I found the entire religious concept to be a beautiful concept. Unconditional Love for all, including non-believers. A belief in a world full of peace and happiness. But that was the “pretty” side of Christianity. I soon found other passages aimed towards the dominance of everything on Earth – where the entire environment was essentially created to serve Man. While I longed for the unconditionally love and peace – as promised through the shiny side, subjugating and dominance over anything only leads to one result – a struggle by the oppressed for equality. Furthermore, I couldn’t jibe all of this with my ideals that Mankind was a part of his/her, an equal partner and part – not a ruler.

And then there was the lip service that was done in the name of Unconditional Love. I saw then – and continue to see now – if an individual expresses any aspect of non-conformity such as, un-natural colors in their hair; piercings through their lips, nose, eyebrows or other personal parts; dressing in a non-conservative manner; or having something other than a typical sexual preference — the amount of anger, hatred, and dismissive attitude presented to those individuals turns my damn stomach. And I do realize that there are those Christians who will point out that people doing such actions as these in the name of Christianity are not following the teachings of Jesus Christ. I still have a problem that this is done – and is not repudiated publicly by other Christians.

Why not Christianity? Because the Natural World is treated as a resource to be used, not as the living, individual entities that comprise it. Because I see a system of Belief that provides lip service about kindness to others, and than perpetuates the opposite towards those that do not conform to their rigid standards of dress, behavior, and preference. To be more blunt – I am a Pagan. I am both a Polytheist and an Animist. I believe in the Gods. I converse with the Gods from time to time. I converse and exist with the Spirits of the Lands. I believe that human beings are a part of their overall EcoSystem and need to learn to coexist in balance with the other inhabitants of that EcoSystem. I believe that people should be allowed to love and live with whom they wish to – regardless of gender, race, creed or any other system of labeling you can dream of.  I am not here to nullify the Christian belief for anyone else but me.  Nor am I here to attempt to convert anyone to my way of belief or thinking. All I ask of anyone else is that same measure of respect.

 

Why Druidry? (Part II)

Back in the first post – Why Paganism? – I did my best to address one of the many questions I get from my non-Pagan friends. My second question, is one that I get from quite a few of my Pagan friends, as well as my non-Pagan ones. Why did I choose a path of Druidry? And why specifically did I choose the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids? As I stated before, the “Elevator Speech” does not quite answer these questions – at least not to a point where I feel I have been able to relate my perspective.

Why Druidry?

A few years back, I always felt that this question was self-evident, particularly in evidence with how I approach my understanding of Paganism. But over the last few months, I have started to realize that many of my friends that ask are not always aware of the personal Path that lead me to the doorstep of Druidry. So when I look for a spot to start my answer, its typically been my experience to start somewhere around the beginning, which transports us back to 1987 in Fort Worth, Texas at Carswell Air Force Base.

I had been conversing with several folks over some of the local Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs), and had been discussing spirituality and religion with quite a few of the folks. It was here that I first encountered a Pagan, which led to meeting more over the BBSs in the local area. Soon I had quite a few to discuss information with, and I began meeting some of these folks for Friday night gatherings at local establishments for long, protracted conversations. I distinctly remember closing down the Pig and Whistle Pub in Fort Worth several times with a group of folks, and the extremely detailed conversations that occurred over a few pints. This was where I encountered my first full-fledged conversations on topics such as reincarnation theory, animism, polytheism, shamanism, symbology and many, many good-spirited debates on comparative religion. There were quite a few very heated discussions that took place, but at the end of the night, we all laughed and hugged one another as we returned to our own homes. There were many times that I felt completely out of my depth in some of the conversations.

However, over time, I became familiar and comfortable with Wicca – and began borrowing books from one of my friends. I read every book cover to cover – and discovered even more concepts and topics that left me scratching my head. Theosophy, the Ordo Templi Orientis, Thelemic mysticism, Kabbalah, Gnosticism….each new concept made my head swim as I learned a little more – but Wicca felt like home. A love of Nature, a connection with the Gods and Goddesses, finding connections with the environment…but there was one nagging constant that I did not enjoy. Ritual.

My upbringing is that of a Catholic, despite the fact that my parents were never all that religious. I know many people who find the Catholic Mass to be a ritual of immense beauty. I am not one of those people. And my dislike for ritual bled over into my time within Wicca. I learned to tolerate the entire aspect of ritual. When rituals were finished, I listened to people gush over how they felt so much more connected to the Gods and their environment after this particular ritual or that particular moment when this Quarter was called or that God or Goddess was invoked. And the entire time, I felt myself thinking how the ritual was not really that necessary – the Gods and Goddesses were always there, the Spirits of the Land (not the term I was using at that time) were easily found – you just had to open yourself to what was there and allow yourself to experience that moment. I constantly volunteered to leave the offerings for the Spirits of the Land after ritual, since it gave me the chance to steal away from everyone else long enough to leave the offering somewhere – and allow myself a moment to open up without interruption. Its really odd, even now – twenty-plus years down the road – I still get strange looks from other Pagans when I note how little use I have for formal ritual.

Carving at a Roman Spring
Carving at a Roman Spring near Kaiserslautern, Germany

In late 1990, I was sent overseas to Germany, and for all intents and purposes completely separated from my coven-mates. And for the first time, I experienced the concept of being completely separated from others where my faith was concerned. I encountered a few Pagan folks during my time at Sembach Air Base, but no one I truly clicked with. Near the base housing I was living at, there were woods – not more than one-hundred and fifty feet from my front door. I walked all throughout those woods for hours on end. I even explored all over my local area, trying to find Pagan shrines that may have still been standing. And in a very strong way, I felt like I was back home. Back in the forested areas I had walked in as a younger “me” – but now even more aware of how I fit into the world around me. I could walk away in silence, and listen to the wind whispering through the trees, hear the call of birds and animals in the quiet woods, and I felt so alive. It was during this time, that I realized that Wicca was not a very good fit for me. The emphasis was on rituals and spell-work, both of which were of little use or value to me. So I stepped over to calling myself a “Pagan” figuring that I would never find a moniker or label or Path that completely fit who I am. And I also began to realize that a label or a name for my Path was no longer important to me. I was (and continue to be) happy with being myself.

Eventually, I would make it back to the United States, separate from the United States military, and live my life within the DFW area. I made another attempt at Wicca with another local DFW tradition, but after my year-and-a-day training period was over – I thanked them for their time and moved on. In time, my own personal studies brought me to the path of Druidry.

Awen
Awen

Druidry, as I have come to understand and relate to the concept, is a way of living one’s life in conjunction with the sacredness of Nature. Through my understanding of Animism (which is literally quite minute by my own admission), the path of Druidry allows me a framework in which I can weave my own conceptualization of the connectedness of everything. The idea that the framework of Druidry is malleable, allows me to mold it to my own personal needs. While there are ritual elements to Druidry, the importance of those elements is left up to me, not placed in front of me as dogma. And the allowance of personal de-emphasis on ritual and re-emphasis on personal experience is one of the reasons I choose the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) over that of Ar nDraíocht Féin (ADF).

So, why Druidry? Because the world around me is alive! I feel the Gods and Goddesses everywhere around me. I am not their focal point – in fact, I would need to achieve their attention through forms of ritual, but I can perceive that they are there. The Spirits of the Land are far easier to work with – in my opinion. Not only are they there, but they are also interested in human kind. Sometimes for the wrong reasons. We – human beings – spend a lot of time trying to destroy the environment that we live in. We try to dominate and use the environment for our own selfish purposes. We sometimes choose not to live in harmony with the Land around us. And it is this point that will lead me down the road to my third – and final – part of this series of posts. I will attempt to answer the question of “Why not Christianity?”….

Thanks for reading – if you got this far!

–Tommy /|\

 

Why Paganism?

Medicine Wheel in Wyoming...one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.
Medicine Wheel in Wyoming…one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

I have been a Pagan since 1987. That’s approximately twenty-six years of my forty-eight year life. I say approximately, because prior to 1987, my own spirituality and my religious life were not that important to me, but many of the primary issues that drive my life were quite similar. My love of Nature has never changed. I enjoy being outdoors and being in the wilder parts of the environment. You know, the places where there are no concrete sidewalks, no prefab restrooms for the public. Places where you step behind a group of trees to take a piss. Where the paths you walk may be nothing more than a deer trail that has been worn through over several seasons.

I’m no hunter. I carry no weapon to point and shoot at the animals I encounter – unless you count the camera I carry. I do carry a walking staff, and a knife. I do respect Nature enough to know I need to protect myself to some measure. But guns are not something I care to carry with me. I did that enough for eight years in the US military. My camera provides enough of the point/click/shoot interface that I need. Besides, I come to the wilder parts of the environment to carry nothing more than experience and memories from my visit. I’m here to be a part of my environment, not find some manner to dominate, control or use it. As a Pagan, I understand that I am merely one aspect of what my environment is. Everything else deserves the same amount of respect.

I do get a lot of questions about my chosen Path in Life – particularly from my non-Pagan friends and acquaintances.

Why Paganism? Could you not find the same measure of solace within the bounds of Christianity?  Why Druidry? What makes Druidry more appropriate than any of the other Pagan beliefs? Is this just your desire to be more weird than anyone else?

…and there’s definitely more than these. But the common thread is simple to understand:  why this particular Path? And to be perfectly honest, this is one of the more difficult questions I tend to be asked. Trying to formulate a standard answer is not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish, at least for me.

Certainly, there are ways to try and answer this question. For instance, there’s the “Elevator Speech” concept that I have heard/read many of my Unitarian Universalist friends espouse. And I do agree that this methodology is an effective one, where you can craft the entire one- to two-minute spiel to a particular audience. But the difficulty that I find, is trying to explain something that relates the entire world around me in a series of connections that I explore so carefully and have spent a lifetime cultivating – into a simple, short message. This particular delivery method may work for others, but it is certainly not something I have managed to balloon-animal into a working format for myself.

On my podcast, Upon a Pagan Path, I ask my guests to talk about their own perspective of Spirituality and how it helps them to relate to the world around them. My manner of approaching this, is to ask them leading questions and then let them work forward from that point to explore the topic on their own. In a way, what I am doing here is quite similar – except that I am essentially interviewing myself, admittedly a tough prospect in its own right.

Why Paganism?

So, let’s start at the most obvious. Why Paganism, indeed. The basic premise behind the over-arching concept of Paganism is a reverence and respect for Nature. I am not going to try and define what Paganism is, but rather will describe what it is to me. The distinction is important, because I am not going to try and describe the experiences of others. I can really only relate what and how Paganism relates to me. It is likely, that I will touch on areas that correlate to others who have had similar experiences, but in the end I am still only describing my own experiences.

I never truly knew what Paganism was when I was growing up. I had a very strong feeling of belonging when I walked through the woods in West Germany with my family on while Volksmarching. My mother and father figured me to be daft in the head when I spoke of the “people living in the trees” and wondered why I was fascinated by the various rings of mushrooms that I would find just off the walking paths. I rarely stayed on the paths – I was always bounding off into the woods, walking parallel to the trails until I encountered some obstacle that would force me back, such as a large stream. When my parents enrolled me in Cub Scouts, I was overjoyed to learn about outings where we would camp in the woods, and get to explore on our own. When my father’s USAF position brought us back to the United States, I was disappointed to find that we would be living in a city. There were certainly wooded areas to play and explore in, but nothing like the deep, quiet woods that I had found in West Germany. I never lost my love of the woods, nor did I lose my understanding and feeling of the forest denizens.

Upon returning to the States, I started to understand a bit more about religious beliefs – mostly thanks to my enrollment into Catholic schools. At every grade level, students were indoctrinated into the Catholic faith with classes, and regular church services, held specifically for the students. In junior high school, I made the mistake of noting that I did not believe in the Christian faith, and found myself face-to-face with the school’s Principal and my parents who had been summoned to explain me. It was then that I realized it was smarter to keep my mouth shut and not state what I did not believe, much less what I did believe. And I honestly had no idea what I believed at that point. Eventually, I stepped into the Southern Baptist faith, mostly due to the urgings of a few friends.

The Southern Baptist faith was an odd one for me. My reverence for Nature was noted to be nothing more than an observance of the beauty of God’s creation. That everything I saw and held as beautiful was placed here for mankind’s usage. Man controlled the environment, and utilized it, as had been laid out according to God’s master plan for the Earth. I never believed a word of that. It never felt right to me. I had realized fairly early on, that we co-existed with all aspects of our environment – that together, we made up all the components necessary to have balance. That damn Libra mindset of mine struck again. And once I found that little chink in the Southern Baptist philosophy, I found more and more…and began to realize that this did not fit into my understanding of the world around me either. So I drifted in my spiritual understanding for another group of years. Eventually, I stumbled into Wicca, and thanks to “Drawing Down the Moon” by Margot Adler – I discovered a world of kindred folk, and a spiritual viewpoint that nearly matched my own.


In writing this, I have found that I may have bitten off more than I can chew at a given moment. Therefore, I will write a second part to this – “Ok, So Why Druidry?” will be the next part. And there may possibly be a third part to this as well. Hopefully, those of you reading this will be intrigued enough to continue along with me when I finish the next post on Monday (tomorrow).

–Tommy /|\

 

My Cloak of Spirituality

A few weeks ago, I ran across someone I had not heard from in well over ten-plus years. She and I conversed over Email a few times, reminiscing over some of the escapades we had as a pair of wide-eyed Pagans in the world. We compared notes on the directions we have taken since that time – she stayed within Wicca for a few more years, became disenchanted with the entire concept, and eventually moved back to her previous Christian roots. I also moved on from Wicca, but never went back to my Catholic roots. Instead i embraced the parts of Paganism that appealed to me – and shed the ones that did not seem beneficial to what I was looking for within myself. Two people who had very similar ideas about what Paganism was, how to embrace it, and how it worked within our lives. Two very different conclusions nearly a decade later. Over the past few days, its lead me to a point of thought about the way we each faced choices in our lives.

Her embrace with her Spirituality is far more community focused than my own. When we were discussing the appeal of our own choices for our Paths of Spirituality, she mentioned how much she really appreciated having others around that she could talk to, be with, and receive support from. That’s a very distinct difference from my own approach of being a single individual within a belief system structured for one. While we are both open about our beliefs, her tendency is to wear her beliefs on her sleeve – almost as if she wraps herself in her beliefs like a bright, neon shawl. While I have no need to hide who I am or what I believe – I have no need to wear it openly, brandishing my faith like a descriptive beacon. And yet, as I sit and think about it, this may actually be more a difference of our personal mannerisms than anything else. Perhaps. She made a comment about how she enjoyed witnessing her faith to others, to show them the joy that she received in walking her chosen Path of Spirituality, of being an example of how her Christian faith works for her, and how that same faith could work for others.

It did not take me long to realize, that this was definitely not true of me. And as I sounded out my reasoning in my head, I realized how self-centric it sounded to my own ears. I follow the Path that works for me. I have never claimed that the Path that I follow will have similar effects for others. My daily Spiritual practice is not focused on being example of why anyone should follow Coyote or Crow (the current Gods that manifest themselves in my Life on a regular basis). And as I realized this, I started thinking about how I should do this.

I could spend time blogging more on my personal interactions with Crow and Coyote – and how each manifest themselves into my life. I could spend time talking about how these two Gods are extremely beneficial to me and my own activities within my Spiritual Life…and the manners in which I approach them and vice versa. I could even contrast and compare them against the other Gods that many others seem to uphold.  …and it suddenly dawned me:

Even if I were a Christian, even in the manner that my friend is, my personal practice would still be my own. Each Christian builds a personal connection with God and his son Jesus Christ – and that bond is different for each person. They discuss that bond, as they are elated over the joy they get from such a bond – and make the assumption that everyone else will get the same elation through their own personal bond. But, that bond would be a unique connection – an experience that can be described in terminology that is then processed and equated by the receiver in the conversation and compared to their own experiences as related to those descriptives. Experiences that will be unique and different for each individual person. No offense to any Christian who might be reading this, but this concept that everyone will receive a very similar experience through their unique personal connection with God/Jesus Christ sounds an awful lot like purchasing fast food. The food is made the same way for everyone and the assumption is that everyone will like the food for the same reasons. In other words, the customers’ experiences will all be nearly the same – therefore the service, the food, everything needs to be the same for everyone. There is no accounting for individual differences.

Now, I realize – quite acutely – that I am painting with an overly broad-brush here. What I am describing above is not necessarily true of every single Christian, nor will every Pagan see Spirituality the same way that I am about to describe. But it is what I perceive, and something that I believe to be of merit for discussion – and thus the reason I am writing this blog post.

My personal beliefs – my Pagan Spirituality – is essentially pieces of personal philosophy that I have picked up from various belief systems. Or if you prefer, pieces of gnosis that I have transplanted into my own understanding of my own environment. I know, I hear the spiritual purists saying that this means that I do not have claim to any aspect of those various gnoses (I think this is the correct spelling of the plural) – and I will be honest, I agree. I am no Zen expert, but parts of my Personal Beliefs are pulled from that. I am not Native American Shaman, and yet I have pulled aspects of those beliefs into my own. I am studying on a path of Druidry – but I do not assimilate every single aspect of it into my own practices. I use those things that work for me. Essentially, my Spirituality is a patchwork of things that work for me – perspectives I can comprehend, understand and utilize for my own personal and spiritual growth. In the end, my own spirituality is more closely resembling a patchwork cape of many colors, rather than a pretty, deep purple velvet cloak with pretty gold fringe. The key is that it works for me, allows me to better understand my environment, and realize my position WITHIN that environment. My role is not to dominate my environment, but to become a complementary part of it. And every day, I understand my role just a little better, and sometimes even discover new facets of my role that I did not comprehend before.

My Cold-weather Coat
My Cold-weather Coat

Looking back, my own personal spirituality may not look as pretty as my friend’s. Its a little worn on the edges, and is not a complete, single color. But its a definite part of me, and who I am. Its not always a comfortable fit. Sometimes its too warm for the weather, sometimes its not warm enough. Its not going to get a second glance from a lot of people around me. But I am not wearing my Spirituality for them. If I were, I would have donned my cloak of Spirituality for all the wrong reasons – in my eyes.

Living versus Practicing….

There are few statements in the entire vocabulary of human languages that make me wince. Here is one of them.

I have not been an actively practicing Pagan for quite a few years.

When I hear this, I wince inwardly. Its almost as if the individual making the statement places this value on an individual “practicing” their faith as the be-all, end-all of determining whether you are a “true” member. But that has me thinking, do I need to practice my faith to be a member of that faith? Do I have to do a certain number of repetitions of certain ritual gestures and statements in order to be a proper member of a faith? Mayhaps, faith is really like an athletic sport. We practice our faith on the days when it doesn’t count, but when the umpires or the referees take the field, we actively participate because there’s a score to be kept.

Perhaps I am being a bit over-the-top here…but perhaps not. Words do have meaning – and thus, we should choose them with care. I hear people talk about practicing their spirituality and faith – and I see that as being different from living your spirituality and faith. Practice, for me, is something you do before the big game, to increase one’s muscle memory for certain moves. I;m not about practicing my spirituality or my faith – I strive to live it, each and every moment.